Jilted by Fred!

Fred Thompson apparently is bypassing next Wednesday's debate here at UNH, choosing to announce his candidacy the day after.

That's kind of disappointing, since I will be there. In fact, I'll probably be one of the few people there who paid full freight for a ticket.

(Although Pun Salad can, in fact, be bought; no candidate has so far felt it was actually in their interest to do that.)

Some links to comments related to this revoltin' development:

OK, so Fred has broken my heart. And, in addition, I can't imagine what an evening of political rhetoric will do to my brain. But I'll try to put myself back together quickly enough to blog about the event on Wednesday evening upon my return to Pun Salad Manor. (Assuming I'm not abducted by a cabal of Ron Paul fans.)


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Blades of Glory

[Amazon Link] [3.5
stars] [IMDb Link]

What can I say? Blades of Glory is Talledega Nights transplanted from the world of NASCAR to the world of figure skating. Given the premise, it's formulaic. I approached it with my best stone face, daring it to make me laugh.

And it did, all the way through. It helped a bit, I think, that I find figure skating to be bizarre, weird, and borderline creepy in the first place. The movie takes that concept and embraces it.

Jon Heder plays a very good straight man to Will Ferrell's usual inspired looniness. The supporting cast is also great: Jenna Fischer, Craig T. Nelson, Amy Poehler, Will Arnett, and William Fichter.

Might not work for you, worked for me.


Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:32 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2007-08-30

  • My employer, the University of New Hampshire, was on the receiving end of an e-mailed bomb threat on Monday, causing quite a bit of consternation on campus. The alleged target was the Admissions Office, and another undisclosed location. The all-clear was sent out shortly after noon, and the event was deemed a hoax.

    Now, as it turns out, we weren't alone; at least seven universities nationwide got such threats, at least two referring to the admissions office.

    Great, that's all we need: bomb-threat spammers. There's no mention of whether the e-mail included a pitch for cheap Viagra.

  • In other University news, Tufts seems to be going all good cop/bad cop on its free speech policies. The Torch updates the case of the University's retaliation, via its "Committee on Student Life", against Tuft's conservative newspaper The Primary Source. Tuft's president, Lawrence Bacow, now says:
    While Tufts is a private institution and not technically bound by First Amendment guarantees, it is my intention to govern as President as if we were. To put it another way, I believe that students, faculty, and staff should enjoy the same rights to freedom of expression at Tufts as they would if they attended or worked at a public university. With the exception of the recent [Committee on Student Life] decision, we have operated in the past as if such rights applied. I will work with the Board of Trustees to formalize this policy.
    Admirable! However, Tufts' Dean of Undergraduate Education James Glaser was less enthused than President Bacow. He reversed the (odious) decision of the Committee on Student Life requiring The Primary Source to byline all its articles. But he made a point of saying:
    I leave untouched the remainder of the committee's opinion.
    Ooh, weaselly! Translation for current and prospective potentially-outspoken Tufts students: your free speech rights are in a little better shape than they were a few days ago, but they rely on the whims of the current crop of administrators to save you from the censorious actions of the Committee on Student Life. Who knows where they'll be in the future?

  • A few days ago, I proposed the theory that major media outlets put in the third string during August. The New York Times provides further evidence for that theory.

  • Let's see: Rob Port doesn't like Mike Huckabee. Philip Klein doesn't like Mike Huckabee. Via that link, I learn that probably Jeremy Lott doesn't like Mike Huckabee. Mary Katherine Ham doesn't like Mike Huckabee. The Club for Growth doesn't like Mike Huckabee. He was one of nine governors to receive an F on the Cato Institute's Policy Report Card on America's Governors last year, and I think that means they don't like Mike Huckabee.

    Gosh, Mike. To quote Dr. Evazan: I don't like you either.

  • Speaking of Star Wars—and I was, pay attention out there—Double Viking has come up with 50 reasons why it's better than Star Trek, and any geek will want to check that out. (Via BBSpot.)

  • OK, so New Republic published made-up crap about Iraq. But I'll give them a little goodwill credit against that debt for "Flower Bauer", script excerpts from the Janeane Garofalo-influenced 24.
    Ext. Dam - day Jack, gun in hand, hurries across the enormous dam. He speaks to Chloe via cell phone.

    JACK BAUER
    Chloe, do you copy?

    CHLOE O'BRIAN
    Yes, Jack.

    JACK BAUER
    This is very important: I need you to Tivo Charlie Rose for me. Leonardo DiCaprio is talking about the disappearing honeybees.

    CHLOE O'BRIAN
    Let me see if I can get into your Tivo controls from here. (TYPES RAPIDLY) I'm in.


Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:41 PM EDT
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Beware the Unlicensed Blogger

One of my pet bugaboos is occupational licensure. The Reason Foundation just released a study examining occupational licensure laws, and found much to be depressed about.

Do you want to be a fortune teller in Maryland? Your future better include a license from the state. How about being a hair braider in Mississippi? You'll need 300 to 1,500 hours of training and government permission. Want to sell flowers in Louisiana? Only licensed florists can do that. And almost every state requires certification if you want to move furniture and hang art while calling yourself an interior designer.
The complete (PDF) study has an appendix on the "most outrageous" licensed occupations. In addition to the ones mentioned above: God help you if you are an unlicensed chimney sweep in Vermont, a projectionist in Massachusetts, or a quilted clothing manufacturer in Utah.

New Hampshire, the allegedly live-free-or-die state, is number four on the list of jobs requiring a license.

Full disclosure: Mrs. Salad is a New Hampshire Registered Dietitian, was involved in the lobbying to get the licensing legislation passed, and sat on the licensing board for awhile. She's (um) well aware of my view that all that was (um) misguided. "Dietician" [sic] is in the report's "most outrageous" listing, although (admittedly) most states do it.


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The Phony Campaign — 2007-08-27 Update

It's been five days, so let's check in with the phony Google hits for the major contenders …

Query StringHit CountChange
Since 8/22
"Hillary Clinton" phony278,000-48,000
"John McCain" phony207,000-55,000
"John Edwards" phony207,000-47,000
"Barack Obama" phony193,000-38,000
"Ron Paul" phony190,000-34,000
"Mitt Romney" phony150,000-43,000
"Rudy Giuliani" phony140,000-14,000
"Fred Thompson" phony128,000-34,000
"Dennis Kucinich" phony84,800-18,200
"Dave Burge" phony54-3

Everyone continues to leak phoniness hits; what's going on? But Edwards managed to leak a little slower than McCain, so he's wangled a tie for second place. Guiliani leapfrogged Fred Thompson into seventh. Hillary, of course, remains in a solid lead position.


Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:36 PM EDT
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Fracture

[Amazon Link] [3.0
stars] [IMDb Link]

This is a decent legal/crime thriller, wrapped up as a mystery: we see nasty Anthony Hopkins shoot his unfaithful wife. He makes a verbal confession, and signs a written one. The cops have his gun out of his own hand. So why is he so cocksure he's going to go free?

His nemesis, our hero, is Ryan Gosling, about to depart the LA District Attorney's office for a plush corporate law gig, mentored by ex-Bond villainess Rosamund Pike. So there's a subplot on how the fruits of his ruthless ambition will turn to ashes in his mouth, etc.

Two problems: first, Mrs. Salad and I figured out the gimmick involved in the mystery pretty easily. I'm pretty sure you will too, if you put your mind on it for a couple seconds. So we spent a lot of the movie waiting for the good guys to catch up with us; that's not conducive to cinematic enjoyment.

Second, the legal theory used to climax the movie is (according to UCLA law prof E. Volokh) almost certainly bogus.

So my advice would be to turn off your brain as much as possible while enjoying the decent acting and dialogue here.


Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:28 PM EDT
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Three Men on the Bummel

[Amazon Link]

One of my favorite books from my geeky youth was Have Space Suit, Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein. Here's how it begins:

You see, I had this space suit.

How it happened was this way:

"Dad," I said, "I want to go to the Moon."

"Certainly," he answered and looked back at his book. It was Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat, which he must know by heart.

I said, "Dad, please! I'm serious."

This time he closed the book on a finger and said gently, "I said it was all right. Go ahead."

"Yes … but how?"

"Eh?" He looked mildly surprised. "Why, that's your problem, Clifford."

A little later:
"There must be a number of ways to get to the Moon, son. Better check 'em all. Reminds me of this passage I'm reading. They're trying to open a tin of pineapple and Harris has left the can opener back in London. They try several ways." He started to read aloud and I sneaked out--I had heard that passage five hundred times. Well, three hundred.
Such was my love for Have Space Suit, Will Travel that when I found out that Three Men in a Boat was an actual book, I decided to read it. And I did, back in 2003. But it was marketed as part of a package with this book, its sequel, and now I've finally got around to reading it, and …

Well that's not a very interesting story, is it? Guess what. This isn't that interesting a book either. It may have wowed the Brits back at the crack of the 20th century, but I think you had to be there. The plot revolves around three very British gentlemen resolving to tour Germany on bicycle. The text is very discursive, with pages-long diversions into topics that have little if any modern relevance.

But you might like it! You can check it out for free at Project Gutenberg.


Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:29 PM EDT
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Sweet Land

[Amazon Link] [2.5
stars] [IMDb Link]

This is a slow-moving tale of love, prejudice, and heartless capitalism. Mostly set in 1920 Minnesota, the plot revolves around the arrival of beautiful and plucky Inge, who's been set up to marry bachelor farmer Olaf. Complications: she turns out to be German, which was a bad thing to be in 1920 America, probably marginally worse in the uniformly Norwegian community she's found herself in. So things get complicated there, also by the fact that their neighbor, good friend, and happy-go-lucky goofball Frandsen has found himself financially overextended with the local banker.

Well, things pretty much work out; this is not a spoiler, because we first see many of these characters nearer to the present day.

There are many good actors in supporting roles. I probably wouldn't have rented the DVD if one of them had not been the actor-who-is-not-me, Paul Sand, who plays old Frandsen, still kind of a goofball.


Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:29 PM EDT
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"You Get What You Pay For"

[Update: I note that Joel Achenbach has linked to this post. I'm (honestly) humbled, many thanks to Joel.]

I like Joel Achenbach of the Washington Post. He's smart, funny, and irreverent. And at times he can be a poster child for what's wrong with early 21st century American liberalism. Following the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis, he blogged on the topic, finishing up with relating Washington D. C.'s Mayor Fenty's comments on the general topic of infrastructure.

Then [Mayor Fenty] talked about the old public schools, where students are supposed to go back to classes in a few weeks in baking heat without hardly any air-conditioning. Worse, Fenty said, the schools don't have the electrical systems capable of handling new air-conditioners. You could put in window units all you wanted, but they wouldn't work with the wiring in those old buildings.

The first parent meeting at my daughter's public high school was in the library and it must have been 90 degrees in the room at 7:30 at night. No way anyone could learn in that.

One basic rule of life: You get what you pay for.

The final finger-wagging boldface is in the original. I believe the point we're supposed to be taking home with us is that the shoddy state of the schools to which Joel's sending his daughter is a lack of adequate funding.

Joel's column was from August 2; it kind of stuck in my brain as something that needed to be replied to, but would require some research.

I should have realized that it was only a matter of a few weeks before someone would drop some research in my lap. Check out "School Money for Nothing" by Neal McCluskey from the Cato@Liberty blog. He's spurred by this report in the Examiner.

D.C. Public Schools will pay nearly $5.4 million in full-time salaries to 68 teachers and staff who won't work full-time jobs this year, schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee told The Examiner on Thursday.
Pun Salad will use its mad math skillz to value-add: that's slightly under $80K per employee. Ms. Rhee says they have been told to report to specific schools when classes start on Monday, but "they don't have specific duties."

Another recent post from Cato outlines the "get what you pay for" reality: the DC Public School budget is over a billion-with-a-b dollars, and its student population is about 52,000; this works out to about $20K per student, and about half a million for a typical class of 25 kids. And they aren't sure they're going to get textbooks to them, or (as Joel points out) knock down the classroom temperature by a few degrees.

It's significant, I suppose that this story appeared in the Examimer and not the Washington Post. If Joel's lucky, these inconvenient facts will continue to fly under his radar, and he can continue to lecture the rest of us about getting what we pay for.


Last Modified 2007-08-29 7:17 PM EDT
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Just Another Signpost on the Road to Disaster …

Libertarian Leanings finds the following quote in a Newsweek "Web-Exclusive Commentary":

Yes, a lot of Vietnamese boat people died on the high seas; but many others have returned to visit in the ensuing years.
Somewhat similar to saying: "Yes, a lot of Jewish people died in the Holocaust; but many others have gone on to successful careers in show business."

Newsweek's web presence, of course, is part of the always perceptive MSNBC professional journalism team. Maybe, to be charitable, they put in the third string during August.


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Salem, Massachusetts

It's not like where you or I live:

A self-proclaimed high priestess of Salem witches and a second person were accused of tossing raccoon parts on the doorsteps of businesses, allegedly as part of a Wiccan community feud.
Via my close personal friend Dave. Pun Salad looked at Salem's Wiccan woes a couple months back.

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Shooter

[Amazon Link] [2.5
stars] [IMDb Link]

Mark Wahlberg plays "Bob Lee Swagger", a deadly sniper; in the opening scene, set in Ethiopia, his spotter buddy shows him a picture of The Girl Back Home, unaware this is just about as fatal as wearing a red shirt on a Star Trek landing party. Quickly, Bobby Lee is being double-crossed by his superiors, and he barely makes it out alive.

But before you can get through a single verse of "Won't Get Fooled Again", Bobby Lee is fooled again, roped into an assassination plot, set up as a patsy. The remainder of the movie follows his quest, against astronomical odds, to clear himself and extract revenge.

On its face, this is a competent thriller; but the plot presumes a secret sees-all knows-all oil-cabal conspiracy permeating the highest levels of the US government, which doesn't have the slightest cavil about committing murders large and small in quest of its evil capitalist goals. You can't read Bill Whittle without feeling major disgust for this sort of diseased plot device, feeding the snakes-in-the-brain paranoia of a small but significant segment of the populace.


Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:32 PM EDT
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The Phony Campaign — 2007-08-22 Update

It's enough to make one lose one's faith in phoniness …

Query StringHit CountChange
Since 8/19
"Hillary Clinton" phony326,000-46,000
"John McCain" phony262,000-28,000
"John Edwards" phony254,000-49,000
"Barack Obama" phony231,000-36,000
"Ron Paul" phony224,000-38,000
"Mitt Romney" phony193,000-47,000
"Fred Thompson" phony162,000-43,000
"Rudy Giuliani" phony154,000-27,000
"Dennis Kucinich" phony103,000-30,000
"Dave Burge" phony57-5

Everyone lost hits over the past three days! John Edwards lost them at a faster rate than John McCain, though, so he dropped into third place. That's especially hard to take, given news like this.


Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:36 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2007-08-22

  • I put forth some modest proposals last week to replace more traditional aspects of the presidential campaign. Alex Tabarrok has his own: a game show "So You Think You Can Be President?". Of the three proposed segments, here's my favorite:
    Spot the Fraud: Presidential candidates are provided with an economic scenario (mortgage defaults are up, hedge funds are crashing, liquidity is tight). Three experts propose plans. The candidate must choose one of the plans. After the candidate chooses, the true identities of the "experts" are revealed. One is a trucker, another a scuba diver instructor and the last a distinguished economist. Which did the candidate choose?
    One commenter observes: "… now we see evidence of what we've all long suspected: Alex Tabarrok is the academic pseudonym of Alex Trebek."

  • The Union Leader editorializes on the dismal pro-earmark voting record of New Hampshire's congressional representatives. I'm not above bragging shamelessly: you could have read about it nearly two weeks ago at Pun Salad.

  • Lore Sjöberg answers your questions about Life-Hacking.
    What is life hacking? Is it like computer hacking? Is someone going to break into my life? Will my dog like him better than me?

    OK, hold on, one question at a time. Life hacking has little or nothing to do with home invasion. It's the practice of using clever little tips and tricks to make your life easier, more efficient or more productive.

    Really? That sounds kind of familiar. Hasn't it been around for a while?

    Yes, previously it was known as Hints From Heloise.

    But life hacking is different, right?

    Judge for yourself. As I write this, the top entry at lifehacker.com is "10 uses for lemons."

  • … and this made me smile.


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Shamelessly Stolen from Professor Drezner

Dan Drezner deems this clip from August of 2006 to be NESN's Greatest Moment … Ever. It's hard to disagree, as Lenny Clarke and Dennis Leary join Jerry Remy and Don Orsillo for a few outs at Fenway Park. For context: it was shortly after Mel Gibson was stopped for erratic driving and made his anti-Semitic rant.

Gabe Kapler is now managing the single-A Greenville (SC) Drive, and Kevin Youkilis is still with the Red Sox this year.

[I wanted to blog this at the time, but the video was only on YouTube for about 23 minutes, as it apparently lacked the Express Written Consent of Major League Baseball.]

[UPDATE: Hm, sometimes the clip shows, sometimes there's just a big white expanse of nothing. If you're seeing the whitespace: Trust me, it was funny. Might work if you check back later.]


Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:28 PM EDT
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UNH: We're Ranked!

The Princeton Review people have come out with their latest rankings of colleges. You might have already heard the big news: UNH has returned to the top-10 ranks of "party schools." We are, in fact, number 7. The Princeton Review website (free registration required for browsing) has other rankings for UNH:

#19 Their Students (Almost) Never Study
#9 Homogeneous Student Population
#4 Little Race/Class Interaction
#4 Lots of Beer
#6 Town-Gown Relations are Strained

As you may know, Pun Daughter is a UNH student. I guess she shouldn't have thrown that beer can at the Durham selectman when she was wandering around town looking for a party with students of her own race/class, but what else are you going to do when you (almost) never study?


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URLs du Jour — 2007-08-20

  • Sunday brought forth an LATimes op-ed column from one Michael Skube criticizing bloggers, and lionizing "old-fashioned gumshoe reporting." Later that same day, one of the bloggers specifically mentioned in the op-ed, Josh Marshall, contacted the author to object and out came the author's admission that he had never actually read Marshall's blog. Comments Marshall:
    … it seems Skube's editor at the Times oped page didn't think he had enough specific examples in his article decrying our culture of free-wheeling assertion bereft of factual backing. Or perhaps any examples. So the editor came up with a few blogs to mention and Skube signed off. And Skube was happy to sign off on the addition even though he didn't know anything about them.
    Is that irony? I can never tell. [Via Prof Althouse. Another blogger mentioned, Matthew Yglesias, offers additional corrections and advice.]

  • My employer (the University of New Hampshire) is held up for ridicule at Phi Beta Cons. Probably deserved. At the same blog, David French weighs in—heh—with his previous experience with UNH.

  • Your tax dollars at work rescuing America's Subways from consequences of terrorist attacks. Also, America's Dunkin' Donuts.

  • Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders bills himself as a "democratic socialist." A perspicacious editorial writer at the St. Johnsbury VT Caledonian-Record notices just what that means when he examined the clientele at a recent "listening session" held by Senator Sanders:
    Presumably, Sen. Sanders intends to listen to the people he has professed to represent since he became an office holder - the dispossessed, the disenfranchised, the poor and low income people, blue collar people, generally, who aren't heard and don't understand the machinations of capitalists. The trouble with Tuesday's gathering was that there wasn't a poor person, or a dispossessed person, or a dirt farmer, or a frayed blue collar worker within a mile of the place. Who was there? The president of Jay Peak Resort, the mayor of Newport, state senators and representatives, selectmen from several towns, and many representatives of and from agencies that live off federal tax dollars.
    … all with their hands out for more, of course.


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The Simpsons Movie

[Amazon Link] [4.0
stars] [IMDb Link]

I'm in agreement with the general consensus that The Simpsons was a great TV show in its first few seasons, then underwent a long decline into its current painful-to-watch state. But, based on the fond memory of those early days, we traipsed off to our local cardboard-box movie theatre to check it out before it vanished.

My expectations were low, and I was mostly pleasantly surprised. Many chuckles, and a few laughs, all the way through. Fans will see just about all the characters from the series, although many just have brief cameos. The overall feel is also the same as the TV show: the plot bounces from one random occurrance to the next, until it settles on one: Homer causing an ecological catastrophe, prompting the a power-mad EPA lunatic to drop a huge plastic dome over Springfield. Just another typical adventure for the Simpsons.

I was especially tickled by Homer holding his new pig (don't ask) upside-down on his living room ceiling, singing to the tune of the Spider-Man theme:

Spider-Pig, Spider-Pig.
Does whatever a Spider-Pig does.
Can he swing
From a web?
No he can't
Cause he's a pig.
Look out
He is the Spider-Pig
Awesome. During the credits, this ditty is sung by a full chorus, so don't leave early.

But as I type, it's number 239 on IMDB's top 250 movies of all time. Please.


Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:30 PM EDT
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Your Word for Today

Futterneid.


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Law Professors Fussin' and Fightin'

I just picked up on an apparently long-running academic feud between Todd Zywicki (law professor at George Mason University) and Elizabeth Warren (law professor at Harvard), mostly revolving around the fascinating topic of bankruptcy. For example, here's a Zywicki-coauthored op-ed where he deemed Congressional testimony by Prof Warren and another colleague to be "junk". You'll also, in the interest of equal time, want to check out Prof Warren's response, where she states that Zywicki "offers no work of his own: no data, no studies, no stories--nothing but the firm conclusion that he is right." You can check out a 2005 Zywicki-Warren spat over the effect of proposed bankruptcy legislation on child support payments here. And this just seems to be the tip of the Google iceberg. Fun!

Back on August 14, Prof Zywicki fired another shot in the ongoing skirmish in a WSJ op-ed. (It's behind the WSJ subscription wall right now, but you can get to it by asking the Google nicely and following the WSJ link.) It begins with a description of the impact of 2005's bankruptcy reform, but then goes on to discuss the more general issue of the alleged growing financial woes of the beleagured middle class. Which—surprise!—happens to be the topic of a 2003 book, The Two Income Trap: Why Middle Class Mothers and Fathers are Going Broke by Prof Warren and her daughter Amelia Tyagi. But waitaminnit, Prof Zywicki writes, there's a bit of a problem there:

In fact, using their own numbers, it is evident that they have overlooked the most important contributor to the purported household budget crunch -- taxes.
Could Warren and her daughter simply have spaced out when looking at taxes? Well, first they look at a typical 1970s situation:
The typical 1970s family is headed by a working father and a stay-at-home mother with two children. The father's income is $38,700, out of which came $5,310 in mortgage payments, $5,140 a year on car expenses, $1,030 on health insurance, and income taxes "which claim 24% of [the father's] income," leaving $17,834, or about $1,500 per month in "discretionary income" for all other expenses, such as food, clothing, utilities and savings.
Then they move to the 2000s:
The typical 2000s family has two working parents and a higher income of $67,800, an increase of 75% over the 1970s family. But their expenses have also risen: The mortgage payment increases to $9,000, the additional car raises the family obligation to $8,000, and more expensive health insurance premiums cost $1,650. A new expense of full-time daycare so the mother can work is estimated at $9,670. Mother's income bumps the family into a higher tax bracket, so that "the government takes 33% of the family's money." In the end, despite the dramatic increase in family income, the family is left with $17,045 in "discretionary income," less than the earlier generation.
You'll note that most of those numbers are carefully expressed in absolute dollar values (and they're adjusted for inflation). The mysterious exception is taxes, which is expressed as a percentage. But it's not hard for even a law prof to do the math and compare (as he puts it) "apples to apples":
In fact, for the typical 1970s family, paying 24% of its income in taxes works out to be $9,288. And for the 2000s family, paying 33% of its income is $22,374.

Although income only rose 75%, and expenditures for the mortgage, car and health insurance rose by even less than that, the tax bill increased by $13,086 -- a whopping 140% increase. The percentage of family income dedicated to health insurance, mortgage and automobiles actually declined between the two periods.

During this period, the figures used by Ms. Warren and Ms. Tyagi indicate that annual mortgage obligations increased by $3,690, automobile obligations by $2,860 and health insurance payments by $620 (a total increase of $7,170). Those increases are not trivial -- but they are swamped by the increase in tax obligations. To put this in perspective, the increase in tax obligations is over three times as large as the increase in the mortgage payments and almost double the increase in the mortgage and automobile payments combined. Even the new expenditure on child care is about a quarter less than the increase in taxes.

Overall, the typical family in the 2000s pays substantially more in taxes than the combined expenses of their mortgage, automobile and health insurance. And the change in the tax obligation between the two periods is substantially greater than the change in mortgage, automobile expenses and health-insurance costs combined.

Bottom line, which Prof Zywicki makes clear enough, but is too polite to say outright: Prof Warren and daughter slant their presentation to minimize any impression that big government might actually be a huge contributor to the typical family's financial problems.

You might want to keep this in mind for the campaign season, when politicians of various stripes will want to at least pretend to care about middle-class financial woes; ask them if they're supportive of bringing back middle-class tax rates to where they were only a few short decades ago.

[Equal time: You can read a longish article from Prof Warren and her daughter, excerpted from their book, here, which —surprise!—contains a small swipe at Prof Zywicki.]

Now if only this were a romantic comedy movie, Professors Zywicki and Warren would find themselves forced into close proximity for an extended period: cast away on a remote island, accidentally booked into the same Tuscan villa, or in the back seat of a minivan trekking through Kansas. After multiple amusing spats, love would bloom! (Unfortunately, if it were a modern Hollywood movie, the screenwriters would also probably have the Zywicki character be politically converted by the Warren character. So never mind.)

I should point out that I'm far more sympathetic to Zywicki than Warren. I looked at one of Prof Warren's Really Stupid Ideas here a couple months back. And in one of those links above, you'll find her advocating many others, most notably a proposal to drastically expand "public education" to cover—at taxpayer expense—two years of preschool and four years of college. Moan.


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The Phony Campaign — 2007-08-19 Update

Query StringHit CountChange
Since 8/15
"Hillary Clinton" phony372,000-19,000
"John Edwards" phony303,000-46,000
"John McCain" phony290,000-12,000
"Barack Obama" phony267,000-13,000
"Ron Paul" phony262,000-4,000
"Mitt Romney" phony240,000unchanged
"Fred Thompson" phony211,000+2,000
"Rudy Giuliani" phony181,000-5,000
"Dennis Kucinich" phony133,000+4,000
"Dave Burge" phony62+6

Many candidates leaked phoniness hits over the past four days. Especially disappointing is John Edwards, who continues to lose ground to the current leader, Hillary Clinton. He'll have to do something incredibly phony pretty soon to have a shot … oh, wait.


Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:39 PM EDT
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Simpsonized!

I succumbed to the temptation here.

[Simpsonized]


Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:42 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2007-08-16

  • Rich Lowry makes a good point, chastising what he calls the "flip-flop police":
    Here we are as conservatives expending an enormous amount of energy to effectively punish candidates for agreeing with us. Since when did it become a bad thing for a candidate to realize the influence of conservatives (and hopefully the correctness of their views) in the nominating process and react accordingly?
    Yes, other things being equal, I'd prefer to support a candidate who agreed with me on everything since we were both in diapers. But that's not going to happen.

  • Fellow Granite Stater Patrick Hynes has an interesting and important essay on Identity Group Conservatism, and I'm probably the last person in the whole wide world to link to it. But his overall theme is similar to Lowry's—why are conservatives suddenly so politically incompetent?—and he adds in an overall pessimism about the future. You might also want to check his followup posts here and here, with plenty of links to other reactions.

    I'm more optimistic, because I think the marketplace of ideas is powerful and on our side. But that's more of a long term view.


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The Phony Campaign — 2007-08-15 Update

Big change at the top today. Today's standings and 3-day trend:

Query StringHit CountChange
Since 8/12
"Hillary Clinton" phony391,000+14,000
"John Edwards" phony349,000-85,000
"John McCain" phony302,000+5,000
"Barack Obama" phony280,000+11,000
"Ron Paul" phony266,000-1,000
"Mitt Romney" phony240,000+16,000
"Fred Thompson" phony209,000+10,000
"Rudy Giuliani" phony186,000+3,000
"Dennis Kucinich" phony129,000+7,000
"Dave Burge" phony56+1

The big news here is, obviously, the sudden disappearance of 85,000 hits for John Edwards, causing his seemingly-safe lead to vanish like a snowflake in July. What's the opposite of ballot-box stuffing? Ballot-box sucking? Whatever it is, I accuse Google of it.

As I fearlessly predicted, Obama's shown a big gain. Given his recent fact-challenged pronouncements, I'm guessing we'll soon see him in third place.

Romney has the biggest gain, though. Probably needs to muss his hair a bit.


Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:35 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2007-08-15

  • I enjoyed a couple articles provided by the Weekly Standard today: an all-too-infrequent appearance of Larry Miller, reflecting on what gullible idjits we all are; and (since the Salad Womenfolk are major Food Channel junkies) Victorino Matus on celebrity-chef culture. The words "Bam" and "Yum-o" appear in the latter, not so much in the former.

  • As we pointed out a couple days ago, scientists who are sympathetic to "intelligent design" are not treated kindly in American academia; however, if you're an English philosophy prof with similar ideas, you can get a NYT column from John Tierney devoted to you:
    Until I talked to Nick Bostrom, a philosopher at Oxford University, it never occurred to me that our universe might be somebody else's hobby. I hadn't imagined that the omniscient, omnipotent creator of the heavens and earth could be an advanced version of a guy who spends his weekends building model railroads or overseeing video-game worlds like the Sims.
    It's OK, I guess, until you start referring to that guy as "God."

    If you find that intriguing, you'll want to check out Tierney's online followup, and especially see Robin Hanson's "How To Live In A Simulation". (One recommendation: "keep the famous people around you happy and interested in you." Hey, that's why I blog!)


Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:45 PM EDT
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Disturbia

[Amazon Link] [3.5
stars] [IMDb Link]

The hero here is named Kale. He's developed attitude problems due to a horrific tragedy in his life, and I'm not talking about being named after a vile vegetable. He winds up being sentenced to house arrest, with an ankle monitor making sure he doesn't leave the premises. His mom cuts off XBox, and other similar timewasters, so Kale becomes a voyeur. (It was either that, or—ewwww!—read some books, I guess.) At first he concentrates on his pretty new neighbor, but then attention shifts to the weird neighbor who cuts his grass just a little too often. Hijinks ensue!

This is supposed to remind you of Hitchcock's Rear Window, but the unfortunate corollary to this is that it will also remind you that Rear Window was a much better movie.

I, for one, would never have expected you could get away with saying "shit" so many times in a PG-13 movie.

Shia LaBeouf, who I liked quite a bit in Transformers, plays Kale, and he's fine here too. But his mom is played by … Carrie-Anne Moss! I don't know about you, but I found that more Disturbia-ing than anything else in the movie. At one point, pretty neighbor observes to Kale: "Your mom is hot!" Duh—way too hot to play a mother!


Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:22 PM EDT
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Extremely Happy to See …

UNH's new president's name on this NYT ad protesting British academics' boycott of Israeli academic institutions.


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Thoughts on the NH Primary and a Few Modest Proposals

Prof Bainbridge caused a minor blogospheric stir by trashing the disproportionate influence of certain small states on the presidential campaign:

I live in California. Our population is over 37 million, representing 12% of the total US population. Indeed, if we were a separate country, our population would be larger than that of all but the 34 biggest countries in the world! We're responsible for 13% of US GDP. Indeed, if we were a separate country, we'd be the 7th largest economy in the world. We produce cutting edge technology, world class wine, and much of the nation's food crop. We ought to matter. And yet, we're virtually irrelevant to American politics other than as source of money that candidates then go spend in places like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.
I believe my exact immediate response was: "Boo hoo." But Pun Salad readers expect and deserve a more sober and nuanced analysis.

Iowa … well, the prof has a point. The main effect of the early Iowa caucuses seem to be that candidates need to drop any sensible farm policy ideas they may have once entertained if they want to do well there.

South Carolina … um, sorry, don't have anything to say there, good or bad.

But with respect to New Hampshire:

First, there's not a lot new in the Prof's complaint. Various pundits have been making similar observations for decades. People interested in a vigorous defense of New Hampshire's primary should check out Hugh Gregg's monograph on the topic. Some key paragraphs:

Columnist David Broder was far more perceptive in observing: "Every four years, someone will ask why a nation this large, this diverse, lets a couple of hundred thousand voters in an out-of-the-way comer of this country decide who should be president. The answer is obvious. Nobody does it better."

I think most members of the fourth estate would concur with a Boston Globe editorial: "Toppling two presidents (Truman and Johnson). Kneecapping front-runners like Taft, Muskie and Mondale. Introducing future presidents like Eisenhower, Carter and Clinton. New Hampshire voters know how to size them up and lay them out. Rarely has the rest of the nation disagreed."

Still there are those who cling to the musty argument that our citizenry is not sufficiently representative of the American electorate to speak for it. They allege we don't have enough Asians, Mexicans, Eskimos or assorted others to be a true cross-section of the general populace. Maybe we don't Except for neighboring Vermont, where they say the cows outnumber and have more sense than the voters, we've got more "Ay'up" ankees than any other place. So who is to determine which minorities best represent the American dream?

We used to be able to say, somewhat proudly, that in the modern era, no President was elected without first winning the NH Primary. We blew that record in 1992, however, by voting for Paul Tsongas over Bill Clinton. We also got it wrong in 2000, favoring John McCain over Dubya.

So, sorry Prof, I don't see any real problem with New Hampshire. If you really want reform, I'd suggest an overhaul of the sterile and boring political campaign standbys: slick TV ads; "debates" that are really little more than gussied-up mass press conferences; endless posturing before special interests. In these days of modern times, informed by America's vast experience in producing mass entertainment, we can do better. Some modest proposals:

  • I'd like to see a Presidential Candidate Tournament on Jeopardy!. Do these people know anything besides how to be glib and superficially demagogic? Am I wrong in suspecting that this would make Celebrity Jeopardy look like a Mensa convention in comparison? Alex Trebek, being a Canadian, is an ideal neutral party to find out. Of course, we'd want to be Soberly Responsible in posing answers, concentrating on serious topics, for example:
    This animated alien is known for trying to blow up Earth with his Illudium Pew-36 Explosive Space Modulator.
    I strongly suspect only Dennis Kucinich would have a shot at that one. But I'd like to find out for sure.

  • Similarly: Presidential Candidate Survivor. I've never watched Survivor, but I've heard that their contestants plot and connive, reveal previously unknown character flaws, and have various sadistic things done to them. I'd like to see that. Not sure I'd learn anything important, but … I'd like to see that.

  • Continuing the reality-TV theme: in early 2008, all candidates are locked away in solitude with their 2007 financial records and only enough food and water for three days. Their task: complete their Federal tax return. Everything is videotaped. If they don't finish in three days … well, that's too bad. Everything will be forwarded to the IRS for processing, auditing, and possible prosecution. Benefits for voters and taxpayers: many and obvious.

  • Presidential Candidate Poker Showdown. Basically, I see Fred Thompson taking it from Hillary, while drawling out the same line Edward G. Robinson said to Steve McQueen in The Cincinnati Kid: "You're good, kid, but as long as I'm around, you're only second best." But then Mitt Romney pulls a derringer from his vest, saying: "Sorry, folks. I'm afraid this beats a full house," and starts raking the cash on the table into a saddlebag. But then John Edwards leaps up from the table, and runs away shrieking; McCain uses the distraction to smash a chair over Romney's head. After that, it gets a little hazy, but I'd like to see how it all comes out, wouldn't you?

Any other ideas? I'm sure nobody in their right mind wants to see this group sing, dance, or try to tell jokes.


Last Modified 2007-08-14 7:43 AM EDT
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Miss Potter

[Amazon Link] [3.5
stars] [IMDb Link]

A perfectly nice little movie that looks at (some of) the life of Beatrix Potter, starring Renée Zellweger in the title role. Ewan McGregor co-stars as (first) her publisher and (then) her suitor.

There's a very gentle and effective use of animation to give us a peek at Miss Potter's imagination. And the movie does a good job of painting the class-consciousness of early 20th century England, as reflected in the attitudes of Miss Potter's parents towards "tradesmen." There are some historical inaccuracies, summarized at Wikipedia, but they're pretty minor.

My only quibble is … well, that Beatrix Potter's life isn't really that inherently interesting. Sorry. Maybe if I'd read Peter Rabbit at a more impressionable age, I'd feel differently, but I was always more of a Little Engine That Could guy.

Miss Zellweger and Mr. McGregor previously starred togeter in Down with Love a comedy ditty set in 1960s America. It would make an interesting double feature with Miss Potter.


Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:33 PM EDT
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The Privileged Planet

[Amazon Link]

I was prodded to read this book by this article at the Weekly Standard website, alleging that one of the authors, Guillermo Gonzalez, was denied tenure at Iowa State due to his outrageous personal views, as expressed here. As it turns out, the UNH Library was broad-minded enough to score a copy, so it was a low-risk venture to check it out.

Gonzalez is an actual astronomer, but the book's viewpoint is well outside scientific orthodoxy. It makes the argument for so-called "intelligent design", at least in in a (non-biological) specific area. The argument is that our lovely planet is the result of a long combination of extremely unlikely events, way too many to be the result of accidental chance. Not only is our environment well-suited to intelligent life, but it's also well-suited for that intelligent life to make discoveries about itself and its universe.

While Gonzalez is a member of the Discovery Institute, a well known anti-evolution organization, there's not much of that in the book; theology only raises its head to be disclaimed. Instead, it's a wide-ranging examination of the science behind "all the things that had to go right" in order to put you and me in the here and now. And there's no denying that it's a pretty impressive list.

Unlike (say) creationists, Gonzalez comes off as pro-science; he's very willing to look at all the evidence, and he knows his way around the literature. But he doggedly wants to put "design" on the table as a valid scientific hypothesis, anathema to just about everyone else in his field. It's too bad this sort of thing can't be openly hashed out without it being painted as yet another instance of the yahoos versus the scientific martyrs.

Amusing side note pointed out here: while Harvard prof Steven Pinker recently wrote an op-ed in defense of "dangerous ideas", this only came a month after his letter to the Boston Globe excorciating that paper for daring to print an article in defense of Gonzalez's views, likening them to—I'm not kidding—Holocaust denial. Anyone reading this book will know, at the very least, how inappropriately stupid that analogy is. Apparently some ideas are just too dangerous for Pinker's sensibility; maybe he should wait more than a month before contradicting himself so obviously.

Having said that, however, this Wikipedia entry on Gonzalez details the history and argues that his current performance may not have been adequate for a grant of tenure.


Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:32 PM EDT
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The Phony Campaign — 2007-08-12 Update

While other campaign weenies examine the entrails from the Ames Straw Poll, Pun Salad brings you its continuing coverage of the only poll that matters, the Google Phony Poll. Today's standings and 3-day trend:

Query StringHit CountChange
Since 8/9
"John Edwards" phony434,000+25,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony377,000+1,000
"John McCain" phony297,000+16,000
"Barack Obama" phony269,000+9,000
"Ron Paul" phony267,000+27,000
"Mitt Romney" phony224,000+13,000
"Fred Thompson" phony199,000+10,000
"Rudy Giuliani" phony183,000+20,000
"Dennis Kucinich" phony122,000+6,000
"Dave Burge" phony55+6

Sober-minded analysis:

  • Edwards' lead seems very safe. Is the race his to lose?

  • Has Clinton's phoniness stagnated? Troubling, if true! But her hold on second place seems secure for now.

  • Paul is threatening Obama's fourth place position. If today's George Will column is any indication, however, Obama should "arugulably" be getting a boost over the next few days.

  • Yes, that was a pun. Sorry.

  • Burge had a huge percentage increase in hits! Unfortunately, a lot of that is due to Pun Salad. Sorry, Dave.


Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:40 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2007-08-10

  • Harry Stein reviews Al Gore's book The Assault on Reason at City Journal. It's not pretty:

    But Al Gore is like one of those guys at a party with whom, once you get a few drinks in him, you never know what's coming. He's liable to strip to his underwear or start spewing expletives or waddle over with an outstretched hand and ingratiating smile and suddenly go for your ear like Mike Tyson. For just beneath that aging prep-boy facade, there's an unmistakable anger and bitterness; where Bill Clinton has always seemed too comfortable in his skin, Gore has often seemed inclined to burst out of his, like some demented political version of the Incredible Hulk.

    This is reflected in the book:

    Yes, it's logically inconsistent and self-serving and unbelievably sanctimonious, but there's a lot of that going around. What ultimately makes the book so disturbing is that something pretending to be a brief for reason and comity is so unbelievably small and mean-spirited. It is less an argument than an extended tantrum. Reading it is often like being locked in a room with a madman.

  • But we don't just look at unsatisfactory behavior from has-been politicians here at Pun Salad; we're pretty unhappy with the current crop too. Today's indicator of dreadfulness is the Club for Growth's—heh—"2007 RePORK Card" which compiles the votes of individual representatives on 50 anti-pork spending amendments. All but one of the amendments failed. (Funding of $129,000 for the Mitchell County Development Foundation for the home of the "perfect Christmas tree" project was successfully barred.) Other Fun Facts:

    • Sixteen congressmen scored a perfect 100%, voting for all 50 anti-pork amendments. They are all Republicans.

    • The average Republican score was 43%. The average Democratic score was 2%.

    • The Democratic Freshmen scored an abysmal average score of 2%. Their Republican counterparts scored an average score of 78%.

    You'll want to check out how your representative did. New Hampshire's scored … poorly, with Carol Shea-Porter getting a 2% and Paul Hodes getting a big fat 0%.

    The GOP ads for next year's Congressional races continue to just about write themselves.

  • Catching the media in a stupid lie? So easy a caveman 13-year-old Finnish kid can do it.

  • Mark Liberman, inspired by a recent news story, looks for snowclones mutated from "I am woman, hear me roar."

    I was kind of surprised that I only found one hit for "I am blogger, hear me bore."


Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:46 PM EDT
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The Phony Campaign — 2007-08-09 Update

I didn't realize Google hit counts were so volatile. Or perhaps there's a growing realization that this crop of candidates aren't as authentic as they could be.

Google hit counts (gathered today), in descending order, plus the hit count change from yesterday:

Query StringHit CountChange
"John Edwards" phony419,000+130,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony376,000+30,000
"John McCain" phony281,000+14,000
"Barack Obama" phony260,000+28,000
"Ron Paul" phony240,000+27,000
"Mitt Romney" phony211,000+19,000
"Fred Thompson" phony189,000+14,000
"Rudy Giuliani" phony163,000+19,000
"Dennis Kucinich" phony116,000+5,000
"Dave Burge" phony49-3

I hope you're as fascinated by this as I am. In a single day, Edwards has leapfrogged Clinton to take a solid lead. There are no other changes in overall rankings, but Obama and Paul are gaining on McCain, and that third place spot looks shaky for him.

Meanwhile, Dave Burge has managed to drop his minuscule number even further.


Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:37 PM EDT
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The Phony Campaign

Why would someone see John Edwards as a big phony? Find out in a recent editorial column titled: "Why I see John Edwards as a big phony."

Which gave me an idea for a bit of research.

Google hit counts (in descending order, as I type):

"Hillary Clinton" phony346,000
"John Edwards" phony289,000
"John McCain" phony267,000
"Barack Obama" phony232,000
"Ron Paul" phony213,000
"Mitt Romney" phony192,000
"Fred Thompson" phony175,000
"Rudy Giuliani" phony144,000
"Dennis Kucinich" phony111,000
"Dave Burge" phony52

That's not quite the ranking I'd choose, but you can't argue with the Google. I think our choice is clear.


Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:47 PM EDT
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More on FISA

It seems I'm at risk of losing (even my small-l) libertarian credentials on the issue of warrantless wiretapping of terrorists. For example, Julian Sanchez writes at Reason:

Like Bill Murray's hapless weatherman in Groundhog Day, America is locked in a perpetual September 12, 2001. How else to explain this weekend's frenzied passage of a sweeping amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), effectively authorizing the program of extrajudicial wiretaps first approved in secret by President George W. Bush shortly after the terrorist attacks of 2001? How else to make sense of a Democratic Congress capitulating to the demands of a wildly unpopular executive for yet another expansion of government surveillance powers, mere months after the disclosure of the rampant abuses that followed the last such expansion?
Gosh, I feel abashed! But while Julian derides a "September 12" mentality, I'm pretty sure I prefer it to the blissful ignorance of the September 10 mentality.

And Jacob Sullum, who I like quite a bit, is also miffed:

When you talk to your mother on the phone, do you have a reasonable expectation of privacy? I thought I did, but apparently I don't—at least, not anymore, because my mother lives in Jerusalem.

Under the inaptly named Protect America Act of 2007, which President Bush signed into law on Sunday, the federal government no longer needs a warrant to eavesdrop on phone calls or read email messages between people in the U.S. and people in other countries. Unless the courts overturn this law or Congress declines to renew it when it expires in six months, Americans will have no legally enforceable privacy rights that protect the content of their international communications.

And then I look at today's WSJ editorial:

To hear the critics tell it, the warrantless wiretapping law passed by Congress this weekend is an immoral license for a mad President Bush and his spymasters to eavesdrop on all Americans. [Yup, see above.] For those willing to believe such things, mere facts don't matter. But for anyone still amenable to reason, the deal is worth parsing for its national security precedents, good and bad. The next Democratic President might be grateful.

The good news is that the new law will at least allow the National Security Agency to monitor terrorist communications again. That ability has been severely limited since January, when Mr. Bush agreed to put the wiretap program under the supervision of a special court created by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The new law provides a six-month fix to the outdated FISA provision that had defined even foreign-to-foreign calls as subject to a U.S. judicial warrant.

There's also a alarm-defusing op-ed in the LA Times from David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey.
The ink is still wet on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act amendments, adopted by Congress in the final hours before its August recess, and already this six-month-long compromise legislation has drawn strident criticisms [Yup, see above.] from civil libertarians, who believe that it has given the president too much power.

The truth, however, is that the amendments mostly return to FISA's original intent, to set requirements for judicial review of domestic wiretaps while allowing the interception of foreign communications without a warrant or other judicial order.

But neither goes as far as Andrew C. McCarthy, writing at National Review; the problem is the FISA legislation itself, which has no Constitional grounding.
FISA doesn't need a fix. It needs a decent burial. Like the wall [the pre-9/11 legal barrier erected between intelligence and law enforcement investigations], it's a bad idea that keeps proving itself to be a worse idea. We shouldn't need another 9/11 before we open our eyes to the undeniable.

Finally, for some belated pyrotechnics, you might want to check out this here NYT editorial (predictably hysterical about "yet another unnecessary and dangerous expansion of President Bush's powers") and the reply from Congressman Pete Hoesktra (who's a little pissed at what he deems "the scare tactics being perpetuated by the Times, which has knowingly and willfully misrepresented the new law to scare the American people.") [These last two links via Katie's Mom.]

All in all, enough links to give you both sides. I'd say "make up your own mind," but I'm pretty sure you, good reader, do not need my advice or permission to do that.


Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:48 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2007-08-07

  • The question du jour: "Who'd have thought that shaping a product designed to intentionally alienate half the available market would be a bad business decision?"

  • Steven Pinker—I'm a huge fan, despite him being a Harvard prof—looks at dangerous ideas. I've groused in the past about ideas I consider dangerous, but he specifically excludes my bete noir: "incendiary conspiracy theories from malevolent crackpots."

  • Speaking of which, Prof Althouse reports on a "9/11 truther" conference in Madison.
    "I think we need to focus on conviviality in this movement," [Kevin Barrett, ex-University of Wisconsin instructor] declared. "We 're not the miserable paranoids people think."
    Kevin, would you like to bet on that?

  • James Lileks has Gnat, but Dave Barry has Sophie. Can the life of a humorists' daughter be easy, when your every cuteness is immortalized on the Interweb?


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Zodiac

[Amazon Link] [4.0
stars] [IMDb Link]

As I type, this movie is number 216 on IMDB's top 250 all-time movie list. Which is absurd, but it's pretty good.

It's about California's Zodiac serial killer, mostly seen from the view of the investigating police and journalists covering the story. The timespan is huge: from 1969 up to the early 80's.

It's directed by David Fincher, who's best known for intensely creepy movies like Fight Club and Se7en. But this movie is relatively straightforward, dealing neatly with the obsession, frustration, and self-destruction of cops and reporters. It's only lightly fictionalized from the real thing. The movie spans years, and that's nicely communicated in a number of ways: we watch the Transamerica Pyramid go up; there's a scene set at the premiere of Dirty Harry, a movie inspired by Zodiac.

All the actors do a great job with their roles, especially Robert Downey Jr., who is basically your go-to actor for Cynical Substance Abusing Wise Guy. Mark Ruffalo is also good as a wise-cracking but tired cop, Dave Toschi. (IMDB says that Candy Clark, well-remembered from American Graffiti, was in this too, but I missed her.)


Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:33 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2007-08-06

  • Worth more than a couple 'heh's: Google Future News checks out the Ron Paul presidency.
    Citing market forces as "a more powerful deterrent than mutually assured destruction" President Dr. Paul announced a bold plan to sell off more than 600 Minuteman and Trident nuclear missiles on the open market.
    (Via Hit&Run)

  • Also amusing is this actual news item:
    In a move that might make some people scratch their heads, a loosely formed coalition of left-leaning bloggers are trying to band together to form a labor union they hope will help them receive health insurance, conduct collective bargaining or even set professional standards.
    Radley Balko scratches his head. Shawn Macomber was actually on hand at YearlyKos:
    Yesterday I attended a workshop entitled, "A Union for Bloggers: It's Time to Organize!" during which a moderator posited, "I think all bloggers, in one way or another, view themselves as professionals" and a woman bemoaned the travesty of her and husband's inability to quit their jobs and become full-time bloggers because the "social safety net is in tatters." In other words, Why won't society foot the bill for her hobby? Better organize!

  • Black humor, but I couldn't help but snicker:
    Either way, man, that is not good way to die unless your name is Michael Vick.
    [But it wouldn't be too funny if it were you being mauled by dogs, would it?—ed. No, I guess not.]


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Congress Does Something!

It was introduced on Wednesday. The Senate passed it 60-28 on Friday. The House passed it on Saturday 227-183. And President Bush signed it yesterday.

What was it? Well, people disagree: the Washington Post (linked above) leads this way:

President Bush on Sunday signed into law an expansion of the government's power to eavesdrop on foreign terror suspects without the need for warrants.
But the New York Times says:
President Bush signed into law on Sunday legislation that broadly expanded the government's authority to eavesdrop on the international telephone calls and e-mail messages of American citizens without warrants.
Whoa, that's quite a difference! Which is it, "foreign terror subjects" or "American citizens"? If the nation's two leading news sources can't agree, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Orin Kerr, a most fair-minded and moderate person, has analysis of some of the issues here. Dafydd, a less fair-minded and reasonable person, opines:

And in the fullness of time, both the Democrat-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate broke with longstanding Democratic tradition and decided to support the United States of America.

Silly bit of business, really; foreigners calling foreigners whose calls happen to be routed through nodes in Los Angeles or New York, and the National Security Agency was listening in when it appeared that one or the other foreign party was a terrorist, a terrorist supporter, or a terrorist harborer. But the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opened the Devil's gate by deciding that this violated some obscure clause of the Constitution of which we were all previously unaware: the constitutional right of privacy for all foreigners living abroad. A judge -- they won't say who -- struck down the program.

And the legislation was aimed toward "fixing" the legal environment to nullify the unnamed jurist's opinion. I tend to lean toward Dafydd's take. Intelligence gathering against terrorists is a no-brainer.

But, speaking of no-brainers: both New Hampshire reps, Carol Shea-Porter and Paul Hodes, voted on the losing side. If I were a GOP ad-writer for the New Hampshire congressional races this year, I'd consider that my job just got considerably easier.


Last Modified 2013-04-22 12:51 PM EDT
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Hot Fuzz

[Amazon Link] [4.0
stars] [IMDb Link]

This movie, I thought, had an unpromising premise: a spoof of cop thrillers, set in Britain. And the previews I caught on TV weren't especially funny: one gung-ho cop jumps over garden fences, followed by his out of shape partner who lumbers through them instead… ha?

But (fortunately) this is a movie that gets its laughs via character development and dialog rather than sight gags. (There are some sight gags, but not ones you can put on TV.) It is made by the same folks that put together the zombie spoof Shaun of the Dead. Simon Pegg, who played the hyperslacker-called-to-heroism Shaun in that movie, plays supercop Nick Angel in this one. His by-the-book devotion to law enforcement alienates his co-workers and girlfriend, so he gets shipped off to sleepy Sandford, where he proceeds to alienate nearly everyone there.

Timothy Dalton, one of my favorite James Bonds, has a huge amount of fun with his role as a seemingly sinister supermarket manager in Sandford.

As I type Hot Fuzz is number 142 on the IMDB's top 250 movies of all time. I wouldn't go that far—bit of ballot box stuffing going on there?—but it is pretty good. (As with all parodies, it helps to have seen a couple of the parodied movies.)


Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:49 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2007-08-01

Aieee! August already?!

  • Understandably contrite after passing a farm bill that makes most of us a little poorer, Congress is set to … pass another bill to make most of us a little poorer still by imposing tariffs on Chinese imports.
    Retaliatory tariffs on China are tantamount to taxing ourselves as a punishment. Worse, such a move will likely encourage China to impose its own tariffs, increasing the possibility of a futile and harmful trade war. American consumers and businesses would pay the price for this senseless war through higher prices, worse jobs, and reduced economic growth.
    This, from a petition signed by 1.028 kiloeconomists. At the link, Dan Drezner is pessimistic that economic literacy will suddenly bloom at the US Capitol as a result.

  • Speaking (again, sorry) of the farm bill, there's a correction to one of the items I linked to, wherein it was claimed that the support of the Congressional Black Caucus was purchased by a "promise to spend $1.1 million on settling racial discrimination claims from the 1990s."

    It now turns out that the actual purchase price was more like $100 million.

    Which reminds me of the old joke:

    George Bernard Shaw was at a party once and he told this woman that everyone would agree to do anything for money, if the price was high enough.

    `Surely not,' she said.

    `Oh yes,' he said.

    'Well, I wouldn't,' she said.

    `Oh yes you would.' he said. `For instance,' he said, `would you sleep with me for... for a million pounds?'

    `Well,' she said, `maybe for a million I would, yes.'

    `Would you do it for ten shillings?' said Bernard Shaw.

    `Certainly not!' said the woman `What do you take me for? A prostitute?'

    `We've established that already, madame.' said Bernard Shaw. `We're just trying to fix your price now!'"

    As any economist will tell you, accurate price information is a must.

  • The current issue of The New Yorker has a pretty good article on the history of spam. No, the e-mailed kind. Two things from the article I didn't know:
    • The first known spam was sent by an employee of the Digital Equipment Corporation in 1978 on the Arpanet; he invited about 600 users to attend a product shindig for the DECSystem 20. He got a lot of hostile reaction for his unsolicited marketing pitch, but the company "sold more than twenty of the computer systems, for a million dollars apiece." Richard Stallman makes an appearance in the controversy.

    • And here's a variety of spam I haven't gotten yet (as far as I know; I don't read all of it):
      In May, death-threat spam began to appear. The message comes from a "hit man" hired to kill the recipient. "I have been hired to assassinate you," the mail typically begins. "I do not know why they want you dead, but you are now being watched." Any user scared or gullible enough to respond will be asked to wire money to save his life. The amount varies.
      I think spammers are generally despicable, but that makes all the Viagra spam look respectable in comparison.

  • You might have seen one of the many news stories about Oscar, a cat who lives in a Providence, RI nursing home, and (it's said) "seems to know when people are about to die." Under his own volition, Oscar jumps up on the patients' beds a few hours beforehand, and stays until the bucket is kicked.

    I hadn't see a skeptical take on this until Daniel Engber's Slate article today.

    It wouldn't be that amazing if Oscar really could tell when someone's about to die. After all, we're not that bad at figuring it out ourselves. Since Dosa's essay was published, other researchers have argued that the cat might be using its acute sense of smell to detect a patient's organs shutting down. But you don't need a superhuman nose to suss out the bouquet of death. Kidney or liver failure can cause waste products or acids to build up in the bloodstream, and patients with these conditions sometimes have a noxious or sweet aroma on their breath. A nurse who knows what he's doing can sniff out a dying patient, too.
    Also, Engber refers to Oscar as the "grim reap-purr." Good for a "heh!"


Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:50 PM EDT
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